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Patch Chats with Rep. Denise Garlick

Legislator talks about adjusting to her new job, preparing a state budget and how she spends her time off.

State Rep. Denise Garlick understands the multi-faceted nature of her job as a legislator, from discussing and voting on bills to organizing a state budget to visiting with her constituents. On Monday evening, Garlick set aside some time to practice one of those duties, meeting with local citizens during an “office hours” session held from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at the .

In between visitors, Garlick, a Needham resident, sat down with Patch to answer a few questions and talk about what is has been like settling into her new job—she was elected to her first term representing the 13th Norfolk District in November 2010.

How have the first six months on the job been? I think it’s the most fascinating job on earth. I really do. I love doing this job. I keep saying to people that I’m meeting: I know at times that the headlines are bad, but the capacity to do good in this job is great.

What is some of the work you’ve been doing on the lawmaking side of things? I’m sitting on three committees—the Joint Committee on Public Health, the Joint Committee on Education and the Joint Committee on Healthcare Financing, which presently is the governor’s entire healthcare reform bill. Between my three committees, I’m going to hear over 964 bills this year—which is just an amazing experience. I hear both sides of the issue on any bill that comes up.

How did you prepare for the state budget process? The first thing I did as a new legislator was contact the town managers in all three towns—Needham, Dover and Medfield. I contacted the school superintendents in all three towns. I contacted the health directors in all three towns, and met with them and talked with them about what were their needs, what were their goals, what were their priorities. Then I also looked to the commissioners of different areas; I met with the commissioner of public health, the commissioner of mental health and the commissioner of developmental disabilities. I also met with the president of the Mass. School Nurses Association. I took that and the mail that I was getting from constituents—which many times was about issues that impacted their families—and started to develop my budget priorities out of that, and what I would advocate for in the budget. I met with the chairman of Ways and Means twice about what the needs of our district are.

What was the budget process like? They broke the budget into different sections—public health, human services, etc.—and if you had an amendment that you had put in, you had this chance to go to an open caucus and make a case one more time. I only had two amendments in that budget, but I went to the caucus hearings for every single section of that budget. I went because I thought, I’m a new legislator and I’d like to see how the senior legislators make their cases.

What I learned was two things: Number one, I learned how diverse the Commonwealth is. I was deeply impressed by my colleagues who in these difficult economic times were making impassioned pleas for very broad programs— things that were important to a lot of people in the Commonwealth. The second piece was: I was the only representatative who went to every single caucus, and people actually began to notice that. So when it came time to give input on the conference, people knew that I had done my homework and that I had stayed involved in the process.

Were there any Needham-specific issues you addressed in the budget? I started to look at the Needham St./Highland Ave. corridor—down by and . We have wanted in this town for a long time to work on that project. In total it’s a $17 million project. I think we can break it down into pieces; that’s what we’re trying to do right now. But to the extent that we can get state funding for that part of the road, it would have a huge positive economic development impact. There’s hundreds of jobs down there. I’m still on the Council of Economic Advisors in Needham and we have been looking at ways to revitalize that New England Business Center. To be able to open up that roadway and improve the traffic down there would be a huge positive impact.

I knew it couldn’t be funded in the current budget, but I had a meeting with the chair of Ways and Means, so it gave me a chance to sit down and say to him, 'I’ve put this in my budget priorities because it’s a budget issue for Needham’ and ‘I know we can’t do it in this budget but I needed this time to talk to you about this.’ And then we talked about ways that we could start to work on that issue and I got connected to the chair of Transportation. So it was a way to use that process as a vehicle for other things that we need.

What have you received the most constituent calls about? It’s such different issues. A good time to call your rep is when you have an issue and you’re dealing with a state agency and you need some clarification or you need an advocate on your behalf. So people call for exactly that reason. I have an issue in another town with one of their housing authorities and I’m working very hard on behalf of those residents with the Department of Housing and Community Development.

On a personal level, I was contacted by a widow in one of the towns whose husband had died and there were unresolved bank accounts and because she didn’t know exactly how many and because addresses had changed, it was difficult for her to get information. We actually walked to the treasurer’s office with her information and resolved that issue for her. It was good for her; it was this sense of peace and closure.

Sometimes people will call their rep because they called another number and they’re getting a busy signal. There was one who was calling the number for their U.S. Congressman and it was busy so they thought maybe we had the secret number or something.

What's a sample day like for you in the role of state representative? I had been in Needham at 7:30 a.m. for the Council of Economic Advisors meeting. I left that meeting at 9:00 a.m. and I was in Dover because I had a constituent who’s breeding thoroughbred race horses, and she wanted to talk about breeding legislation. Then I got in my car and I drove to the Statehouse, and at the Statehouse I sat on a panel on end-of-life decisions because I’m on the Healthcare Financing Committee. When that panel was over, I met the third graders from upstairs who had won a water award. Then I went back to the office and I worked on preparation for a meeting I had coming up. And then I came home and went to a local meeting in Needham.

It’s just amazing the number of people that you meet and how the subject changes. My day is in 30-minute increments, and the 30-minute increments can be totally different subjects. How can you not be fascinated?

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Well, I’ve got four kids [the youngest is 23], so for me, right now, the greatest joy is when I’ve got all four of them in one place. We were vacationing in Vermont recently and they were all with us, so that was really important to me.

What is one bill that the legislature has discussed recently? One of the major issues we have coming up is the Bottle Bill, which actually has been an interesting in Needham. I have co-sponsored that bill and see that it’s a natural progression of the original Bottle Bill that was drafted in 1987—only at that time people weren’t drinking bottled water or vitamin water and that kind of thing. In making my decision about co-sponsoring that bill, I thought not only about the positive environmental impacts but I wanted to be assured that there are also positive business aspects. The information that I have actually supports that it doesn't have a negative impact on business and that in fact jobs can be developed out of the expansion of the Bottle Bill. That vote is coming up on July 20.

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